May 24, 2011
7th St. Entry
What a difference nearly three years have made on Johnny Flynn's popularity in Minneapolis. After his first local headlining show at the 400 Bar in 2008 drew only about 30 people (with Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling opening, no less), Flynn and his trusty band, the Sussex Wit, returned to play a sold-out 7th St. Entry to an enthusiastic crowd who sang and stomped along to every single one of his songs. [jump]
Caitlin Rose was also a smart choice for an opening act, as she clearly brought some added fans as well as some extra spunk and cachet to the bill, and the Nashvillian songstress delivered a solid, but brief set which got the night off to a rousing start. But Flynn was clearly the big draw on this evening, letting his spirited music do most of the talking for him, while delivering a rousing 70-minute set that uplifted the packed club and sent everyone home happy.
Rose, who was playing with a four-piece backing band, brought some welcome moxie to her countrified ditties, as her playfully coarse between-song dialog belied the simple beauty of her songs. After opening with a wistful version of "Learning To Ride," she teased the crowd by asking if we knew it was Bob Dylan's birthday. Who does she takes us for? Of course we knew. But then she went on to cheekily explain: "To kill my boner about it, someone told me Gene Clark died on the same day. So whoever told me that can suck it." It was that same bristling personality which elevated her songs as well, as she frequently started a number singing a bit tentatively, before unleashing the full range and depth of her angelic vocals as the track soared to a close.
She sportively sang the first line of "Raspberry Beret," before introducing "Own Side" by saying, "This could be a Prince song, if it was ten times faster and less depressing." "For The Rabbits" found Rose putting down her guitar to focus on her vocals, and the song truly took flight, and was one of the clear highlights of her all-to-brief, 7-song, 35-minute set. The band ended things strongly, clearly enjoying themselves on a lively rendition of the Coasters' classic, "Young Blood," which closed their set on a real high.
Flynn also brought a four-piece band along with him (which included Lillie, Johnny's sister, on back-up vocals, flute and harmonium), but really, with the five different instruments Flynn played throughout the set, he really could have carried these songs all by himself. In addition to the well-worn guitar Flynn played for most of the 15-song set, he also played mandolin, trumpet, violin, and banjo when the mood or melody called for it. His dexterity was truly a sight to behold, as he swiftly went from strumming a riff on his guitar to blasting out a stirring strain on the trumpet without missing a beat.
The set started with a couple familiar numbers from Flynn's stellar debut, A Larum, as both "The Box" and "Cold Bread" got both the band and the crowd into it. And, if anyone was on the fence about letting loose and having a good time at the show, current single "Kentucky Pill" probably sealed the deal, as the packed room fully gave themselves up to the buoyant spirit of the song. Flynn only built on that strong momentum, delivering a first-rate rendition of "The Wrote & The Writ" that was one of the highlights of the performance.
Flynn didn't talk that much during the set, joking with some girls in front of the stage, "You're talking so I don't have to." Instead, he seemed quite focused on the music, meticulously tuning each instrument he picked up in order to capture just the right sound that the tune demands. "Hong Kong Cemetery" found Flynn ushering the track forward on his trumpet, as if leading his troops off to war, while an enthusiastic version of "Barnacled Warship" surprisingly featured Flynn shredding on violin. His exemplary musicianship was on display all evening long, carrying his lively songs forward while daring his band to try and keep up with him.
After a bluesy, storming version of "Howl," from Flynn's recent release, Been Listening, which found Flynn sounding a bit like Jeff Buckley, the keyboardist (who went unintroduced, as did the rest of the band, Flynn's sister included) joked that he and the drummer came up with the setlist for the show, and that Johnny thanked the drummer but sadly didn't thank him. Flynn went on to explain: "We have a fight after every show about how bad the setlist was. And usually I'm the one who writes them up. Tonight I just let them get on with it, so I'm feeling a bit smug. This is...a song" And with that Flynn eased his way in to a spare but lovely rendition of "The Water," with Lillie doing a fine job filling in for Laura Marling's sweet backing vocals. It was another high point in a set that featured plenty of them.
"Eyeless In Halloway" featured Flynn picking up the banjo and the crowd joining in the singalong. Flynn's songs have always sounded like great pub anthems to me, perfect for a well-lubricated crowd to sing in full voice. And it was exactly this type of communal spirit that was lacking at the sparsely attended 400 Bar show, but not on this night, as the passionate crowd helped Flynn carry these songs home. Flynn stated, after 60 breathless minutes, that "This is the last one," to which the crowd yelled "Nooooo!" Johnny joked that we've said our peace and it wouldn't change anything, but either way, "it's been fun" before launching into a raucous version of "Tickle Me Pink" which boisterously closed out the main set.
I wasn't expecting the band to return for an encore, but when the thunderous ovation didn't die down after a couple minutes, the band returned, with Flynn mischievously saying "We've got one more." And with that, the band closed out the night with a dynamic rendition of "Leftovers" that ended the show splendidly. One can only hope that Johnny Flynn's star continues to shine brighter for him here in the Twin Cities, and with remarkable performances such as this one, hopefully it won't be too long until they match the overwhelming success of their former tourmates Mumford And Sons.
Critic's Bias: I've been waiting patiently for Johnny Flynn to come back to Minneapolis since 2008, and have always hoped they would eventually attract a larger fanbase here.
The Crowd: Packed and passionate.
Overheard In The Crowd: "What instrument can't this guy play?"
Random Notebook Dump: I was informed by my wife prior to the show that Flynn is the new face of Burberry for their spring campaign. But that didn't keep him from selling his own merch before his set.
Caitlin Rose's Setlist:
Learning To Ride
New York City
For The Rabbits
Young Blood (The Coasters)
Johnny Flynn's Setlist
The Wrote And The Writ
Lost And Found
Brown Trout Blues
Hong Kong Cemetary
Eyeless In Halloway
Tickle Me Pink